by Linda Holmes
Here's the takeaway from the weekend's box-office news: This weekend was the biggest weekend since at least 1985.
The estimated take of $278 million righteously stomped the previous $261 million record-holder, the weekend in the summer of 2008 when The Dark Knight opened. And it's not just that tickets are more expensive in general or that Avatar is in 3D that's even more expensive: it's also the most tickets ever sold over three days since they started counting.
In addition to Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel performed very well. (Consider this: It's Complicated made more than $20 million and landed in only fourth place, while a couple of weeks ago, The Princess And The Frog had a similar opening and came in first.) Awards contenders Up In The Air and Nine -- particularly the latter -- did slower business, but overall, it's quite a demonstration of muscle.
It seems logical that some of what happened may have involved pent-up demand from last weekend, when many parts of the Northeastern United States were buried in a foot or two of snow and Avatar's opening may have been affected. Avatar's minuscule 3 percent drop from its first weekend to its second seems consistent with the hypothesis that some people who might have eagerly watched it last weekend went this weekend instead, contributing to the pileup.
But in any event, people are either very much in the mood to go to the theater, or studios are doing an unusually accurate job of guessing what they want to see. That weekend when the take was $261 million, the vast majority of the money came from The Dark Knight, with everything else trailing very, very distantly. Seeing this kind of money spread over so many films, several of them critically received as somewhere north of "really not bad," has to have many Hollywood types chomping their cigars with joy.